How Apprenticeships Can Close the Cybersecurity Skills Gap

Features Recruiter.com

According to a recent study by Cybersecurity Ventures, rising cybercrime will lead to a threefold increase in the number of cybersecurity roles over the next five years. The problem is finding enough cybersecurity professionals to fill these roles and keep cybercrooks at bay.

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With cybercrime predicted to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, companies are wondering how they can narrow the talent gap and make sure they have cybersecurity pros in place to mitigate the threats.

In past columns, I have advocated for "raising a generation of technologists" and

"inspiring a generation of tech champions" to address our nation's overall IT skills gap. Cultivating a new wave of talent from the ranks of tweens and teens is critical to the long-term health of the tech industry and the U.S. economy. However, organizations confronted by a cyber-siege today can't afford to wait for tomorrow's talent.

We believe the solution to the cybersecurity skills gap today is a time-tested technique for rapid skills development: apprenticeship.

When facing a daily onslaught of cyberthreats – such as ransomware, which Symantec estimates accounts for 4000 attacks per day – organizations understandably scramble for cybersecurity candidates who have the experience and skills that fit their immediate needs. This exclusive emphasis on the end of the talent pipeline could become self-defeating. Without taking a proactive course to develop other candidate channels, a company's ability to hire qualified cybersecurity experts is subject to the vagaries of market forces. Employers must reach outside the existing cybersecurity talent pool if they intend to tackle today's cybercrime epidemic with due urgency.

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Apprenticeships enable employers to tap three plentiful sources of IT talent in comparatively short order:

1. Skilled Workers in Other Fields

Per a recent study shared by the Wall Street Journal, about 87 percent of professionals now working in cybersecurity did not start there. Nearly a third (30 percent) came to their positions from fields outside technology, such as marketing, finance, and the military. A third of chief information security officers (CISOs) and other upper-level executives in cybersecurity today started with roles outside IT departments. These findings suggest many companies need look no further than their own ranks to find viable cybersecurity talent. Companies can look within their own workforces to find worthy mentors who can nurture this non-IT talent.

2. Groups Currently Underrepresented in IT

Our apprenticeship program at CompTIA, IT-Ready, offers eight weeks of intensive, classroom-based education and training free of charge. We seek students from groups currently underrepresented in the IT industry, including unemployed people, underemployed people, displaced workers, women, ethnic minorities, and veterans and their spouses. In a year or less, our apprenticeship program is delivering competent candidates from underrepresented demographic segments to the job market.

3. Students Who Were Undertrained in College

In our recent study, "Assessing the IT Skills Gap," 87 percent of the IT and business executives surveyed agreed with the statement "Colleges are not sufficiently preparing students for today's jobs." That includes jobs in cybersecurity, which ranked among the poll's top five IT skills gap areas.

Companies can apply the apprenticeship solution to this channel, too, by creating what we call "sustained internship" programs. In short, college students (and sometimes qualified high school students) work as interns for the same organization summer after summer, with the promise of a full-time position upon graduation. This approach lends a real-world immediacy to cybersecurity awareness and other technology training often lacking in classroom settings. In Chicago, our home market, we collaborate on this approach with Accenture, Cisco, and IBM.

Whether focusing on talent inside or outside an organization, apprenticeships can supply companies with a more predictable, sustainable pipeline of applicants while providing new cybersecurity workers with necessary experience, education, and mentorship. Through apprenticeships, businesses can overcome the scarcity of security professionals and prepare their workforce for today's – and tomorrow's – cybersecurity challenges.

Charles Eaton leads three philanthropic endeavors for CompTIA, the world's largest IT trade association. His first book, How to Launch Your Teen's Career in Technology: A Parent's Guide to the T in STEM Education, is available at www.tinstem.com.